On our recent design trip to Guatemala, we got to visit the colorful cemetery in Chichicastenango. This cemetery is the brightest we have ever seen. Every year, Guatemala celebrates All Saints’ Day on November 1. This day happens to honor loved ones such as family members and relatives who have passed away. The tradition is to hold large celebrations and visit cemeteries on this day.
The tradition of All Saints’ Day (Dia de Todos Santos)
Similar to the United States’ Halloween, All Saints’ Day is all about ghosts and spirits. The people visit colorful cemeteries to be near deceased friends and relatives. Unlike other cultures that celebrate the dead, there are three practices called the Fiambre, Carreta de Caballos, and the Festival de Barriletes Gigantes.
The tradition starts at 4 am when families go to the cemetery to bring flowers, candles, water, and music. The people commonly serve a dish called Fiambre on this day. Fiambre is a cold and traditional Guatemalan dish. The dish combines ingredients from the Spanish colonization, including sausages, meats, cheese, olives, and fish. They eat it with their families and friends and leave some for the dead at their cemeteries.
The Festival De Los Barriletes is a festival that involves giant kites. On the day of celebration, the cemetery is full of kites. This is because Guatemalans believe that spirits come closer if there are children with kites. Colorful paper makes up the kites and sometimes takes 100 groups of people to make enough for everyone.
Since it is illegal in Todos Santos’ town to drink liquor, except on this day, they have a drunk horse race. Each year, the festival takes place on November 1, in the village of Todos Santos Cuchumatan, in the Huehuetenango mountain range of Guatemala. The festival is more of a traditional festival and not a race. It mainly involves wearing traditional clothes and riding drunk. People often wear colorful scarves, and the riders carry chickens.
Rituals during All Saints’ Day
On this day, many rituals take place. There are rituals such as the burning of incense and animal sacrifice. Other practices involve leaving cigarettes and alcohol for a syncretic saint. The ritual involves believing that Maximon, also known as Saint San Simon, grants favor in return for these gifts left at his altar.
Dancing is also another ritual for a holiday. Graves are sacred and are seen by most people throughout the world as rude to step on. However, in Guatemala, the rituals involve a tradition where they dance and have a party on top of the graves. The relatives and friends drink and dance in honor of the deceased.
Colorful mausoleums are one of the most essential parts of All Saints’ Day in Guatemala. In other countries, gravestones and cemeteries are often in their natural stone. In Guatemala, the cemeteries have very colorful designs that they paint on November 1st.
The cemetery in Chichicastenango, in particular, is painted in a new color each year to get ready for the holiday. The different colors have different symbolic meanings in their culture. Yellow represents the sun’s life force, white means purity, turquoise means protection, and others represent the color of the dead.
To create good luck for the living and to have good connections with the living and the dead, Guatemalans believe that painting these colors in the cemeteries will bring them a good fortune to the living generations.